February 3, 2023

Japan vs Croatia and more 2022 World Cup news

2 min read

Japanese players celebrate after beating Spain on Thursday.
Japanese players celebrate after beating Spain on Thursday. (Ejaz Rahi/AP)

Not many would have predicted that Japan would top Group E by beating both Spain and Germany to qualify for the knockouts. But the team has been so impressive that not many will raise an eyebrow if the Samurai Blue reach the quarterfinals for the first time in their history. They play against Croatia. — the 2018 World Cup finalist — in the Round of 16 today at 10 a.m. ET at Al-Janoob Stadium.

Croatia is a team that is unbeaten in 9 of their last 10 World Cup matches. Their only loss in this run in Russia came four years ago when a Kylian Mbappé-inspired France won 4-2 in the final.

Meanwhile, Japan have never advanced beyond the round of 16, losing in 2002, 2010 and 2018.

Defender Yuto Nagatomo said memories of the defeat by Belgium four years ago, when Japan let a 2-0 lead slip and lost to a stoppage-time goal, will keep the players going.

“I’ve never forgotten that battle against Belgium. Sometimes, scenes from the match suddenly come to me and the last four years have been very difficult,” the full-back told reporters on Sunday. “But I think we have developed mentally and physically and … as far as I can see, this team is the best and strongest that has competed for Japan in the World Cup.”

Since 1997, Japan and Croatia have played each other three times, with Japan winning the friendly 4–3, but France losing to Croatia in the group stage in 1998. At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the two teams drew 0–0.

Croatia is a possession based team, which can match Japan as they beat Germany and Spain with 17.7% and 26.1% possession respectively.

Japan will “apply the samurai warrior philosophy. So will we. If we want to go further, we must adopt the same attitude, do our best and never underestimate anyone,” coach Zlatko Dalic said. “Japan have the least possession in the world, but they make great transitions. It’s the most consistent. Consistent opponents. They don’t give up. We have the same mentality, Japan and Croatia. We’re equal. standing on the foundation.”

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